Fridays with Francis: March 27, 2015

150 Homeless persons got a rare opportunity to see more than the outside entrance to the Vatican museum this week. They were invited to take a guided tour of the Vatican museum and gardens, followed by a free meal in the cafeteria. They were also given the opportunity to pray in the Sistine Chapel, where the Holy Father surprised them with a visit of his own. He made sure to speak with each of the guests.

Pope Francis supposedly told his guests, “This is everyone’s house: it’s your house. The door is always open for all.” While this is a common Christian principle, the novelty of this visit for the homeless reminds us that we may say that our doors are open, but we do precious little to actually help people enter into Christ’s presence.

This reminds me a bit of the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The master not only opened his doors for the unsavory people of society to join him at the banquet, but he sent his servants out to gather them. He didn’t wait to see if anyone would walk through the door first, or in what state of dishabille they were in before coming to him. Kudos for the Holy Father for his constancy in practicing what Christ preaches.

While I’m on the topic of the marginalized, it breaks my heart that Pope Francis visiting  gay and transgender prison inmates is shocking enough to warrant a story. I can’t stress enough that the Church does not hate LGBTQ persons. I really can’t.

Then again, in a statement that surely confused and angered many, Pope Francis came out strongly against compromising on matters of faith.

“Whoever is not with me is against me: there is no third choice to be made. Either you are a saint or you take the other route,” the Pope reiterated, saying that the person who chooses his own will not only “loses out,” but, does something worse: “he wastes and wrecks. He is corrupt and he corrupts.”

I think rigid statements like these throw many people because it appears to contradict the merciful and accepting tone that Jesus proffers to the marginalized, the broken, and the sinful. It doesn’t; no person is denied Christ’s gift of self. But while the open door is open to all, the door only leads to one place.

One matter of faith that the Holy Father returned to this week was that of gender theory. I know this is stating the obvious, but the Pope is not a fan.

You know what Pope Francis is a fan of? Pizza. Maybe he can share a pie with President Obama when the two get together later this year to discuss issues of mutual interest.

And finally, in case it wasn’t obvious yet that Pope Francis is a rock star, a group of cloistered nuns turned groupie when given the chance to meet the Holy Father. One sister managed to retain enough of her wits to present the Pope with a present (supposedly some baked goods) after mobbing him. As if this story couldn’t get any more adorable, Cardinal Sepe managed to throw in some good-natured zingers at the sisters’ expense:

“Sisters . . . Later. . . . well would you look at that. And these are the cloistered ones. Just imagine the non-cloistered ones,” he said, provoking laughter among the crowd gathered in the cathedral.

“They are going to eat him! Sisters . . sisters!”

Seriously, there is nothing more awesome than simple, unadulterated zeal. God bless these women.

Fridays with Francis: February 13, 2015: Beautiful Romance and Broken Ego

Melissa Maleski

A beautiful romance begins with a broken ego. That is the only way I can think to summarize Pope Francis’ message leading up to Valentine’s Day.

There was some fairly hard language to come from the Chair of Peter this week. Technically it began at the end of last week when Pope Francis called the abuse-of-minors scandal a scourge, but he kept the ball rolling this week. He called on world governments to stop ignoring the  shameful wound of human trafficking, which boasts a consistent tally of victims in the neighborhood of 2.5 million. In some parts of the world the word shame carries some weight, but us Westerners have some well-padded egos. If Pope Francis wants Western governments to listen when he speaks, I’m afraid he’ll need to use much stronger language. But let me come back to this in a minute.

The Holy Father saved his strongest statement for couples who choose not to have children. Not bothering to mince words, he called this choice selfishA society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pope said. “The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished. I’m assuming that the lack of reaction in the mass media to this statement is due to Dropped-Jaw Syndrome.

There is a rapidly-growing debate around the inter-web about who is more selfish: parents or childless-by-choice couples. For your edification check out this editorial in Time.  Or this passionate opinion. Or this actual side-by-side debate. Each position defends their claim primarily on the grounds of economics and psychology. The Catholic position, which Pope Francis succinctly stated, rests primarily on moral principles. Economics and psychology are incorporated to support the moral principles, but are not supposed to precede moral considerations.

I don’t want to make this a windy apologetics piece, so I will try to explain briefly why childless-by-choice is selfish by Catholic standards. Male and Female were created as a gift, one to the other. When one male and one female come together, they are supposed to give all of themselves to the other. This is called the total gift of self. It’s a process that is similar to how stars are born. Clouds of gas and dust (the individual persons) begin to collapse and die. As the parts collapse, the center of the clouds get hotter and more solid (Sacrament of Marriage). When the center reaches peak heat and density, a star is born. It starts to grow, and eventually it’s light bursts forth for universes to see. This last part correlates, in people terms, to two things. One, biological conception and birth of children. Two, charitable contributions to society through volunteering, donations, and being generally happy and well-adjusted people. Both components are necessary aspects of man’s existential reality. Holding back, or not totally giving one’s self to another, blunts the humbling impressiveness of this gift. Feel free to argue the logic of it in the comments, but this is Theology of the Body in a mustard seed.

Let me turn back to Pope Francis and Western governments. His statement to Western leaders is not as forceful as the one aimed at childless-by-choice couples, and that intrigues me. Maybe it’s just that the latest consistory of cardinals began this week, but I get the feeling that Pope Francis has a different approach in mind for dealing with those who are on the top of the food chain of power and influence. Rather than engage in compelling dialogue (as, say, Jesus did with the Pharisees and regular folk), I think we may see the Holy Father increasingly limit the attention he gives anyone attached to established power. Like the Sadducees in the New Testament, those who have gotten comfortable being in charge will be nudged to the margins of relevance. What better way to break an over-inflated ego than to deny it room to breath?

Fridays with Francis, February 6, 2015

Melissa Maleski

The Holy Father kept things low-key this week. No wacky soundbites. Nothing overtly offensive to anyone, really.

Pope Francis reminded the bishops to stay on-board with the Church’s ongoing dedication to cleaning up the vestiges of the shameful sexual abuse scandal. He spoke about the importance of fathers in their children’s life:  Also today’s children, returning home with their failures, need a father who waits for them, protects them, encourages them and teaches them how to follow the good path. Pope Francis did express approbation for spanking a child under certain conditions; I’m surprised that this hasn’t caused an uproar yet. Maybe the obnoxiously frigid temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic region are chilling everyone out.

The Holy Father did announce that he will be addressing Congress when he comes to the United States this September. I can imagine what he will say to our legislative branch.

The real fun will be reading the reactions from Fox News, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report.

Finally, the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero was officially recognized by Pope Francis, which allows the beatification process to begin.

As the Holy Father is wont to do, he made a couple of very sweet and inspiring gestures of Christian charity this week. First, he chatted with a group of special-needs children on Google Hangouts. Then, after already announcing that the planned Vatican bathrooms for the homeless will include showers and barbers, 300 homeless were given umbrellas to keep them dry from the persistent bad weather.

To keep the sweet note going, I’m sharing with you a fun dessert I stumbled upon. It is a sandwich cookie called an alfajores.  It’s an Argentinian iteration of a Spanish delicacy. The recipe, in Spanish and then English, is here. Strap on your metaphorical apron with me and try making these on Valentine’s Day, in honor of our Argentinian Pontiff!

Fridays with Francis, January 30, 2015 : Encountering Others In Mercy and Peace; Considering Atticus Finch

Melissa Maleski

I gave in to temptation this week and took one of those silly Facebook quizzes. It was something about which literary character I most resemble. I got Atticus Finch, from To Kill A Mockingbird. In the description of the character, one line jumped out at me:

Someone who is as forgiving as they are morally inflexible.

This resonates with me for very personal reasons, but it dovetails nicely with the Holy Father’s week. It was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and Pope Francis spent almost all of his breath on what Christian unity will require of us. To be more specific, he said, “Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions.” Rather, he wants us to encounter others and challenge them. This certainly gives some context to his comments on annulments this week.

What the Holy Father’s statements have to do with the description of Atticus Finch is simple. To be agents of Christian unity, Pope Francis wants us to esteem mercy as much as we do Truth. How are we to do this?  Stop legalizing the faith, for one.

In no uncertain terms, Pope Francis is telling us that we won’t win friends and influence people if all we are doing is engaging in doctrinal pissing contests. But he is not advocating the rejection of doctrine or its manipulation. Not at all. I think what he’s saying, first of all, is that we need to first get right with our own beliefs. Either we need to have the moral inflexibility of true conviction, or be open to the possibility that we are wrong–and that someone will someday prove it. Regardless of which way you lean, you need to be at peace with your direction. That peace is crucial to having a meaningful encounter with another person.

Once we have peace, it’s easier to start an encounter. We can spend more time listening. We can spend more energy empathizing. Only then can we challenge, and be challenged. The challenge Pope Francis speaks of is not a verbal one. It is a challenge to act: to live in imitation of Jesus, who unites us all in Himself.

Of course, it’s equally important that we actually care about  encountering others outside of our tiny universe. Never mind the strength of our convictions. If other people aren’t as important to us as we are to ourselves, what’s the point of unity?

So in the spirit of Pope Francis’ call for Christian unity, throw a party with some friends. Engage each other, preferably with a bottle or three of wine. May I suggest an inspired  vintage?

While you are at it, share your thoughts on one last remark of the Holy Father:

It is one thing to pass on the faith, and another to teach the matters of faith. Faith is a gift: it is not possible to study Faith. We study the things of faith, yes, to understand it better, but with study [alone] one never comes to Faith. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which surpasses all [“academic”] formation.

In context: Pope Francis is explaining why the strength of your faith is determined by how strong the faith is of the “woman who raised you.”  And they say that the Church doesn’t value women…

Fridays with Francis, January 23, 2015: Love as Justice

Melissa Maleski

Rabbits. Out of an entire lengthy interview  that covers some incredibly heavy subjects, all people could talk about this week were rabbits. I think Mr. Cuddles aptly expresses my feelings on the Papal news blitz this week:

cute rabbits flickzzz.com 014-709115

Mr. Cuddles and I want to direct your attention to the more relevant “R” word used in this notorious portion of the Holy Father’s interview: “responsible.” Pope Francis spoke of the irresponsibility of a woman who was having her eighth child after having seven cesarean sections. The Holy Father was not calling the number of children irresponsible, but how she seemingly disregarded prudence under the guise of “trusting in God.” In cases like these, “trusting God” is really just Pilot-esque hand-washing; life is going to happen, especially when we just sit there and let it.

The flip side of this responsibility–of this prudence–is responsible justice. Having large families and “being open to life” may seem an odd thing to be labeled as responsible justice, but think of it in terms of the second of the Great Commandments: love your neighbor as yourself.  This essential teaching of Jesus tells us four compelling things about how we’re meant to live.  One, everyone deserves love. Two, each of us is responsible for giving love to others. Three, we are responsible for accepting the love that others give us. Four, the two cannot be separated. When we give love and accept love it is an act of justice. The “responsible” part just means that we are making a conscious effort to act justly towards everyone. So “being open to life” is much more than just having lots of kids. It means being open to giving all people the love they deserve,

When you put these two together–responsible prudence and responsible justice–you can see Pope Francis’ mindfulness of human dignity in whole. Love your neighbor as yourself can’t become love your neighbor more than yourself or love your neighbor less than yourself without somebody getting the shaft.

And that, in my opinion, is the Holy Father’s point, a message that was dwarfed this week by rabbits. In case you aren’t able to read the whole interview, let me catch you up to speed. Pope Francis said:

One of the things that is lost when there is too much wealth or when values are misunderstood or we have become accustomed to injustice, to this culture of waste, is the capacity to cry…We Christians must ask for the grace to cry. Especially wealthy Christians. To cry about injustice and to cry about sins. Because crying opens you to understand new realities, or new dimensions to realities.

When I say it is important that women be held in higher consideration in the Church, it’s not just to give them a function as the secretary of a dicastery — though this would be fine. No, it’s so that they may tell us tell us how they experience, and view reality. Because women view things from a different richness, a larger one.

But don’t forget that we too need to be beggars – from them. Because the poor evangelize us. If we take the poor away from the Gospel, we cannot understand Jesus’ message. The poor evangelize us. I go to evangelize the poor, yes, but allow them to evangelize you. Because they have values that you do not.

Another curious thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too, but for them a child is a treasure. Some would say ‘God knows how to help me’ and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity, but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.

Today, paper and what’s left over isn’t all that’s thrown away. We throw away people.

I don’t know what to say after that last one. It’s a brutal, brutal truth.

On a final note, Pope Francis threw out a book recommendation that will help frame his thinking behind “ideological colonization.” Written in 1903 by Robert Hugh Benson, it’s called Lord of the World. From his preface I think Mr. Benson will be quite entertaining:

I am perfectly aware that this is a terribly sensational book, and open to innumerable criticisms on that account, as well as on many others. But I did not know how else to express the principles I desired (and which I passionately believe to be true) except by producing their lines to a sensational point. I have tried, however, not to scream unduly loud, and to retain, so far as possible, reverence and consideration for the opinions of other people. Whether I have succeeded in that attempt is quite another matter.

In case you missed last week’s Fridays With Francis, which dealt with ideological colonization in more depth, read it here.

About this feature:  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church through thought, word, and deed. Writer Melissa Maleski brings an insightful Catholic convert’s perspective to the general themes (culture, politics, spirituality, art, and more) Rad Infinitum covers, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.

 

Fridays with Francis, January 16, 2015: “Ideological colonization” is The Enemy of Peace

Melissa Maleski

Canonization announcements. Statements on fundamentalism, terrorism, religious freedom, the environment, contraception, marriage, the economy, and diplomacy. Trips to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. And that is just a portion of what the Holy Father was up to this week. There is a theme interwoven in all this, embodied by two related statements. These two statements are not found in any of this week’s news, but they summarize nicely the point Pope Francis is trying to make. The first one is: Peace and self-sacrifice are inseparable. The second: Ideological colonization is the enemy of peace. 

The phrase ideological colonization just emerged today, and it’s an immediate favorite of mine. Short and unassuming, once completely unpacked this phrase has the potential to knock you on your butt. Colonization, as a word, implies displacement. One thing comes in, another must be removed to make space. Forests fall so that buildings may rise. Settlers arrive and natives scatter. Rarely does colonization leave the displaced unscathed, if a continued existence is permitted. Applied to ideas, colonization is the overtaking of one idea by another. Pope Francis’ calling out of Fundamentalist terrorism introduces us to the concept of ideological colonization through its most recognizable strain. It’s fairly obvious that forcing your world-view on others via slavery, beheadings, and bombings won’t foster peace.

Where most people started to get squeamish was when Pope Francis called out the softer strain of ideological colonization. It is much harder to articulate, and spreads itself across multiple subjects, but in general is characterized but a fundamentalist zeal for relativism. There is no other belief than the rightness of all beliefs, I’d say it goes. Many of the topics Pope Francis spoke on this week are tainted by this soft strain of ideological colonization. His remedy lies in the repeated call for peace.

This is not your average call for everyone to get along and play nice. Speaking to princes and paupers alike, Pope Francis made it clear that real peace can only come when you run to people, not over them. And fostering real peace requires a sacrifice of self. It requires you to consider the dignity, the needs, and the rights of others before yourself. Economic systems are only as ethical as the most marginalized person they help. Freedom of speech is not really free when it offends the dignity of the subject of speech (dignity should not be confused with pride here). In the nicest way possible, Pope Francis is telling us that if what we say, do, and believe is primarily for the benefit for our selves, we are not working for peace.

The move to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra and Blessed Joseph Vaz reinforces Pope Francis’ particular message of peace. Both men were missionaries who left the comforts of their lives to tend to the spiritual and material needs of others. Their blatant example of this peace is the direct counter to fundamentalist terrorism, and our inspiration to find opportunities in our daily lives to bring real peace to the world.

Until next week, I challenge you to do two things: bring real peace into your life at least once a day, and leave a comment here with your perfect catchphrase for the Holy Father’s special message of peace. Because special message of peace is just long and boring. I need you guys to help me do better.

 

 

About this feature:  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church through thought, word, and deed. Writer Melissa Maleski brings an insightful Catholic convert’s perspective to the general themes (culture, politics, spirituality, art, and more) Rad Infinitum covers, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.

 

 

Fridays With Francis, January 9, 2015: New Rad Infinitum Writer Melissa Maleski, the Magi, and Mothers

Editor’s note:  Please join me in welcoming writer Melissa Maleski to her new weekly feature on rad infinitum. We’re very happy to have her rounding up the weekly activities of Pope Francis.  The spiritual leader of a over a billion people, “the People’s Pope”  has captured the attention and imagination of millions others with no formal relationship to the Roman Catholic Church (myself included) through thought, word, and deed.  Melissa brings an insightful Catholic perspective to my own Protestant fandom, and will no doubt add greatly to our experience of Francis’ leadership and unfolding legacy.  – CC

Melissa Maleski

Pop your personal bubble before you suffocate in it. That’s pretty much what the Holy Father is telling us in the New Year. In stark contrast to the Magi, who traveled far outside of their comfort zone, Pope Francis called out those who have hard hearts and fall into a narcissistic cycle of fear, pride, and vanity. This cycle, says the Holy Father, gives the illusion of self-sufficiency, but really locks a person inside himself. The Magi, by opening themselves to something far beyond their knowing, find God and themselves.

Like the Magi, Pope Francis holds up mothers as wonderful examples of people traveling outside of themselves and being better for it. The Holy Father does not mince words about how he views a mother’s value:

“To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address.

Before anyone brings the snark about the Church valuing women only as far as they are actively breeding small nations, read what Pope Francis follows up with: “In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

And in case his words don’t quite sink in, the Holy Father’s decision to elect cardinals from the fringes of the world puts practice to his preaching. Cardinal-making stalwarts, like the United States, did not see any gains in the new election. Many of the new cardinals come from countries that never had a cardinal before, bursting the College bubble for the first time in a long while.

On a lighter note, the Holy Father raffled off personal possessions to raise money for the poor and rubbed elbows with Lara Croft.